What is Section 8?

Updated August 9, 2022
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What is Section 8? 

Section 8 (Housing Choice Voucher program) is a government-assisted program put in place to help very low-income families, elderly, and disabled persons to afford safe and sanitary housing. The housing vouchers can be applied to single-family homes, townhouses, and rental apartments. Participants are able to find their own housing that meets the requirements of the program. 

How Do Housing Vouchers Work?

Vouchers are given out by HAs or public housing agencies. HAs get federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HA determines the safety and health standards of rental units, and the person that is looking to rent is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit (with the owner’s agreement).

The HA pays the landlord directly, and the participant is responsible for paying the difference between the actual rent and the amount that the program paid. 

The HA determines the amount of housing assistance they will pay for. The maximum housing assistance is generally the lesser of the payment standard minus 30% of the family’s monthly adjusted income or the gross rent for the unit minus 30% of the monthly adjusted income.

How Do I Find Out If I am Eligible For Section 8 Housing?

Eligibility for housing vouchers is determined by the HA. Your local HA will base you eligibility off of household’s total annual gross income and family size. As a rule of thumb, the family’s income cannot exceed 50% of the median income for the area that you’re choosing to live in. You should also know that by law a HA provides a majority of its voucher founding (75%) to applicants whose incomes are less than 30% of the area’s median income. Meaning, you have a better chance of receiving voucher if your income does not exceed 30% of your county’s average income. 

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Median income levels are published by HUD and vary by location. The HA serving your community can provide you with the income limits for your area and family size.

women filling out section 8 paperwork

What Is The Application Process Like To Apply For a Housing Voucher?

The HA starts by collecting information on your family income, assets, and compensation. They then will verify this information with your employer, bank, and other local agencies. Once this is verified the HA will uses this information to determine the amount of housing payment assistance you are in face eligible for. 

Unfortunately, not all eligible persons receive immediate assistance. The HA will put you on a waiting list – unless they deem that you are need of immediate assistance. 

What Is The Wait Time If I am Put On a Waiting List For a Housing Voucher?

This is tough to answer, but you should know that HAs may give preference to families that are 

  1. Homeless or living in a below standard housing situation.
  2. Paying more than 50% of their income for rent.
  3. Involuntarily displaced.

Where Can I Apply For a Housing Voucher/Section 8 Housing?

If you are interested in applying for a voucher, contact the local HA. For further assistance, please contact the HUD Office nearest to you.

What happens if I move? Do I continue to receive housing assistance?

Yes. Moves are allowed – just make sure you notify the HA ahead of time, find an acceptable housing alternative, and terminate your current lease within the lease provisions. 

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Roles – The Tenant, The Landlord, The Housing Agency and HUD

Once a HA approves an eligible family’s housing unit, the family and the landlord sign a lease and, at the same time, the landlord and the HA sign a housing assistance payments contract that runs for the same term as the lease. This means that everyone — tenant, landlord and HA — has obligations and responsibilities under the voucher program.

Tenant’s Obligations: When a family selects a housing unit, and the HA approves the unit and lease, the family signs a lease with the landlord for at least one year. The tenant may be required to pay a security deposit to the landlord. After the first year the landlord may initiate a new lease or allow the family to remain in the unit on a month-to-month lease.

When the family is settled in a new home, the family is expected to comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition and notify the HA of any changes in income or family composition.

Landlord’s Obligations: The role of the landlord in the voucher program is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent. The dwelling unit must pass the program’s housing quality standards and be maintained up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments. In addition, the landlord is expected to provide the services agreed to as part of the lease signed with the tenant and the contract signed with the HA.

Housing Authority’s Obligations: The HA administers the voucher program locally. The HA provides a family with the housing assistance that enables the family to seek out suitable housing and the HA enters into a contract with the landlord to provide housing assistance payments on behalf of the family. If the landlord fails to meet the owner’s obligations under the lease, the HA has the right to terminate assistance payments. The HA must reexamine the family’s income and composition at least annually and must inspect each unit at least annually to ensure that it meets minimum housing quality standards.

HUD’s Role: To cover the cost of the program, HUD provides funds to allow HAs to make housing assistance payments on behalf of the families. HUD also pays the HA a fee for the costs of administering the program. When additional funds become available to assist new families, HUD invites HAs to submit applications for funds for additional housing vouchers. Applications are then reviewed and funds awarded to the selected HAs on a competitive basis. HUD monitors HA administration of the program to ensure program rules are properly followed.


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